Why Your Scissors Glide (or Don't) When You're Wrapping Presents

Wrapping Presents

Wrapping Presents

In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, a moment of transcendence can happen as you wrap presents: scissors in hand, cutting a piece of wrapping paper from the roll, the blades hit their stride and slide from end to end.

Why is it sometimes the scissors glide, and other times the paper tears a dozen times? Christopher Luettgen says it all has to do with paper quality.

“Good wrapping paper is going to have a prettier surface. It may even have a textured surface, maybe embossed or more three dimensional,” said Luettgen, a professor of the practice with the Renewable Bioproducts Institute and an expert on paper.

High-quality wrapping paper is made from softwood pulp — in particular, the strongest pulp you could make is southern pine softwood.

“The really good paper starts with softwood fiber,” he said. “Softwood kraft in particular — ‘kraft’ being an old German word for ‘strong.’ It’s going to be stiffer and stronger in multiple directions. Then it gets coated so you get a nice clay coating on the surface, which will smooth the surface to get it beautifully printed. When you come across weak paper that wants to tear very easily, it is often made with mechanical fibers.”

So, if you want the glide, you want good paper. When might it be worth skimping on quality?

“If you’ve got a big job, like you want to wrap a TV or a large game or something like that, you don’t want to spend a lot of money on the high-end wrapping papers. It’s going to get torn up pretty fast. That’s when you might go with a cheaper, thinner brand.”

Of course, as Luettgen notes, you can’t tear the paper in the store, but looking for a thicker paper is a good start. The thicker paper will also give your presents a more refined look under the tree.

“Let’s say you’re giving a book to somebody. You want nice tight corners. You want good creasing. You really want to make it showy.”

Why, then, does Santa sometimes not wrap his presents? Luettgen believes it’s all a matter of resources leading up to Christmas Eve.

“If he has enough help at his studio, I would think that he’s going to get all of your presents wrapped. But if he’s rushed, with bad weather for instance, he may have to come down the chimney with the presents unwrapped, but they’ll be under the tree.”

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Kristen Bailey

Institute Communications